The "Common Good" is No Good

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture
Submitted by Kyrel Zantonavitch on Thu, 2012-04-12 19:53

"The public good," "the public interest," "the common good," "the greater good," "the good of all," "the good of humanity," etc. are all naturally, inherently, ineluctably collectivist notions and ideals. Whether people know or intend it, these moral standards ruthlessly attack the Holy Individual -- the cynosure of the universe.

People often invoke the aforementioned mistaken social goal just before perpetrating some horrific injustice or act of tyranny. And just after this depravity, the miscreants and unprincipled evil-doers often claim "the ends justify the means."

Such is the nature of this dreadful societal ideal. The result of such false and evil beliefs is internecine competition, civil war, destruction of the brotherhood of man, and a universal breakdown of society.

However little it's currently understood or acknowledged, the fact is the Sacred Self is "the one true god." Or, at the least, he is potentially a demigod.

In any civilized culture or society, the personal comes before the social, and the Individual before the collective. Thus the only legitimate socio-economic goal and political ideal is always "the Individual good," or "the Individual interest," or "the good of the Individual."

This is the only moral standard which generates the proper ordering of society. And, once enacted -- nothing could be more civilizationally magnificent or universally beneficial.

In any virtuous world, the group or the collective -- including close relatives, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and coworkers -- necessarily comes second. Or even last, or not at all. This is because the Individual is all. The totality of society and civilization should always be bent to His benefit, prosperity, happiness, and triumph.

The obvious point here is -- or should be -- that everyone is an Individual. And the almost-obvious point is that moral individualism or egoism is not anti-social or socially destructive. In fact, it's just the opposite.

No society or civilization is more benevolent, sociable, and friendly than an individualist one. This was shown by the Anglo-Saxon nations of the 1800s with all of their volunteerist organizations, and superior respect for women and ethnic minorities. Dividing man against man, and favoring one group over another -- which is what "the common good" fundamentally, secretly means -- is a recipe for social disaster.

Of course, the right-wing philosophy of "god" and country, and the left-wing philosophy of socialism and the collective, both reject ethical individualism and the Individual good. They openly reject egoism, and selfish happiness. Conservatives and progressives are basically Hobbesian "war of all against all" ignoramuses and monsters who favor a greater "good" partially based on sincere belief, and partially as a sham and scam to advance their evil ideological agenda -- whether monotheism, or welfare statism, or both.

Still, in some senses -- and depending on what you mean -- one can argue that "the greater/common/collective good" is actually and truly a good ideal. But only if it's interpreted individualistically, such as "liberty and justice for all" (i.e. for all individuals equally). But historically this is not how these phrases have been used. They've always been interpreted as a compromise on full self-interest, or a balancing of hostile interests, as between a majority and a minority. And this last means nothing less than a war between them!

Ultimately, nothing in human existence is more vulnerable and precious -- no-one is more in need of protection and cherishment -- than the human Individual. Certainly not some supernatural god or collectivist mob. In every halfway decent society the Holy Individual -- his freedom, flourishing, happiness, and centrality of existence -- should be promoted above all else!

( categories: )

More "Common Good"

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

The false and evil social ideal of "the common good" or "the greater good" or "the greatest good of the greatest number" [from the founder of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, 1748-1832] implies that there exists conflicts of interest among individuals, and even that individual rights conflict and contradict. This is malevolent. Or at least it's negative and pessimistic regarding human nature and social interaction. It suggests internecine competition, civil war, and "dog-eat-dog" competition is normal. I think all of this is false.

Human beings and human life are beautiful if you regard the Individual as god, and worship Him without qualification; and if you treat His happiness and the protection of His rights as your, and society's, unqualified number one goal.

My thanks to Prof. Ed Younkins for adding his take on this issue from 2000: http://www.thefreemanonline.or....

Here's another intelligent thinker on the subject:

Ayn Rand also discussed this issue about 45 years ago:

mps getting busted

Damien Grant's picture

Actually Leonid, MPs only think they can do what they want, the NZ Police are excellent in arresting anyone they find breaking the law:

There have even been examples where junior police officers have challenged the police commissioner (Peter Doone i think) about his behaviour and it cost the commissioner his job.


Leonid's picture

MP's travel in any speed they want. Your theory doesn't hold water because law stipulates only the upper limit of speed. People could drive as slowly as they want or walk. However I disagree with your somehow skeptical view on the common good doers and group thinkers. They usually just love humanity , only hate men. For lunch we'll have vegetables only-it's good for common good.


Damien Grant's picture

I am touched by your faith in mankind, the idea that something does not happen because the moral consequences are too horrible to contemplate, but I have a much different view of humanity.

However, you may be right when you say that those who set policy feel they will not be touched by the laws that they set, although as Graham found out recently that is not always the case, but when it comes to driving laws, even the mighty and powerful drive and there is no shortage of MP's, policeman and others who have run afoul of drink driving laws and the like.

Anyway, this topic is exhausted. What is for lunch?


Leonid's picture

"I think it is more subtle than that, because the living people who make the decision know that there is a chance that they could be among the dead, so it is similar to the individual decision we all take when we decide to speed to drive."

I already said that I disagree with your idea of trade-off, mainly for two reasons.

First- the moral consequences of such a premise are too horrible to contemplate.
Second-there is no such a thing as group-thinking, unless you are member of the anthill society. In the " common good" society the life and death decisions made by the people who are in the position of political power, and their lives are well protected by bodyguards and police escorts with the alarms and flashing blue lights. The " common good" doers never die!

If the state ran the internet for the common good...

Marcus's picture

thank you

Damien Grant's picture

I believe in user-pays.

I think ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Damien is a newbie playing devil's advocate and seeking clarity, which it is good practice for us to help him with. A muddled statist open to being de-muddled. He recently made a generous donation to SOLO, so naturally I regard him as a good faither! Smiling

It seems Damien...

Marcus's picture

...hasn't just been brainwashed in accepting bondage at the hands of the Moari, but he has also been defeated by the NZ obsession with road toll numbers and its hankering for pornographic ads to illustrate this fact.

In that he is simply being a "typical" New Zealander.


Damien Grant's picture

"By the statement "collective risk society is willing to bear" you actually mean that some living people are willing to take risk that some others will die. Did society ask for the consent of the victims of this collateral damage? Is this common good is also good for them?"

I think it is more subtle than that, because the living people who make the decision know that there is a chance that they could be among the dead, so it is similar to the individual decision we all take when we decide to speed to drive.

Faster is more convenient but carries a larger risk of a crash, a higher speed limit means a higher death toll, and those setting the policy know they benefit from the higher speed limit but personally face a risk of being run over by other people who are driving at the higher speed levels.

I have no idea what this proves in terms of a common good argument but I think it shows that people sometimes think as a collective rather than as individuals.

Humans, in my view, do think as a group, we are tribal and some of us want to belong to something. Those who prefer a libertarian world perhaps think less like this than those with a socialist preference, which may explain why sweet reason is not going to get someone to change their mind if their political view is hard-wired.


Leonid's picture

Going too fast could mean that we get there sooner or not get there at all. I don't think that there is a trade-off and calculated number of victims is involved in the decision on the speed limit. It calculated in order to bring the number of speed-related accidents to the lowest possible level. It is fine with me if some drivers decide to go above this level and kill themselves in the process. My only problem is that they could kill me as well. However, if you're right and policy makers plan for collateral damage ,then they treat road users as sacrificial animals. By the statement "collective risk society is willing to bear" you actually mean that some living people are willing to take risk that some others will die. Did society ask for the consent of the victims of this collateral damage? Is this common good is also good for them? The true is that there is no such an entity as society, only individuals could take risk. Society which willingly and knowingly sacrifice some of its members for "common good" is society of cannibals.

Jesus, Mark...

Ross Elliot's picture

"I've just opened this thread for first time, and have read nothing other than the top couple of comments where I'm mentioned"

...what a filthy, unwholesome, self-serving slut you are. Is this what happens to accountants when they withdraw from genteel society?


Shane Pleasance's picture

I studied business at the wrong university, sir.

Here is my take on the common

younkins's picture

Here is my take on the common good:


premeditated murder

Damien Grant's picture

Leonid, I disagree with you here. I think that that trade-off is directly considered by policy makers when they set the speed and alcohol limits, in the same way that as individuals we make that implicit trade-off every time we choose what speed to drive. Going fast means we get there sooner but there is a risk as well.

We make the decision on the level of risk we are prepared to accept as individual drivers and policy makers set the collective risk society is willing to bear for allowing other people to speed knowing that there will be collateral damage.


Leonid's picture

Contrary to what you think the speed limit is not a compromise between number of victims and convenience of the drivers. Such a compromise would be a premeditated murder which indeed befits the collectivist society based on the principle of common good. However, this is not a case. Speed limit is calculated more or less objectively in order to provide reasonable safety and to minimize damage and death of all road users, not to sacrifice some of them for the benefit of others. As you said, the total prevention of accidents is impossible in any speed and driving represents certain risk . There is no low limit of speed on the roads, except highways, and people could drive 10 km/h if they wanted to. But they won't, because such a driving would defeat the very purpose of the using of car. People therefore take this small risk voluntary. The simple walking also not without risk-one can fall and break the neck. No body can remove all dangers in life and this is not a purpose of traffic rules. Besides, there are many other traffic rules which are completely objective-for example traffic lights or driving on the same side of the road to the same direction etc...

The common good

Shane Pleasance's picture

presupposes the initiation of force.

Incompatible with civilised life.

more than moderately muddled

Shane Pleasance's picture

The Companies Act is an example where the form and function of how people choose to manage their business is regulated by the state. This imposes considerable restrictions on how people structure their affairs but because we are all forced to obey the same rules we have a simple and effective system for running the economy. If the rules were abandoned we would have more commercial freedom but, in my view, a much less effective environment and a far lower level of wealth as transactions became ever more complex.

For private ownership of roads, yet spouting the above?

Muddled statist.

Further explanation required?


Mark Hubbard's picture

I've just opened this thread for first time, and have read nothing other than the top couple of comments where I'm mentioned Smiling

I certainly agree with Kyrel's subject line, per se, though have not read his header post in writing this comment, (yet). But where Shane says 'I am correct in my analysis', I have no doubt he is right Smiling however, quickly looking down I can't see what that actually is referring to as I can't see where else I've been mentioned.

Would someone like to link me to the post for next time I log on?


Damien Grant's picture

Although I quite like Hubbard, I disagree with on a number of issues, (that I am a muddled statist is not an area of disagreement) but to date he has proffered no opinion on this issue, though surely he will when he loggs back on.


Shane Pleasance's picture

Hubbard is correct in his analysis. Again. Eye

Reeds Roads

Damien Grant's picture

In my world roads would be privately owned, but even if they were privately owned I think collective rules on behaviour would be needed on issues like driving drunk, speeding and other restrictions on individuals rights-of-action, in the same way that laws governing human interactions (ie: assault) prevail when people are associating on private land such as the cinema.

As for other areas, I am thinking of areas where people are doing things that do not directly impose on another person’s rights but where things work much better if we are all forced to obey set-rules.

The Companies Act is an example where the form and function of how people choose to manage their business is regulated by the state. This imposes considerable restrictions on how people structure their affairs but because we are all forced to obey the same rules we have a simple and effective system for running the economy.

If the rules were abandoned we would have more commercial freedom but, in my view, a much less effective environment and a far lower level of wealth as transactions became ever more complex.


Damien Grant's picture

Who is 'we' is indeed a good quesiton.

Roads cannot be made totally safe. If we lowered the speed limit to ten k per hour some people would still get killed, (from boredom if nothing else.)

So, we set a higher speed limit, knowing that it will mean in more deaths but will allow the roads to work. That is a subjective judgement made between the freedom on individuals to drive at the speed limit they want and the costs of too many dead on the roads.

This is a clear distincton between the rights of the many vs the rights of the individual, and when it comes to driving rules we consider the rights of the many, and I would argue that the 'rights of the many', is what I would call society and the common good.


reed's picture

I think you are right up to a point. Roads are owned by everyone and should be managed for the "common good". In the case of roads the authority is justified by ownership. There is no injustice regarding road rules.

… and remember I am using road rules as a proxy for a wide range of similar such coordination of human behavior where individual rights are constrained in return for a better functioning society.

In these other cases what justifies presuming authority over another person?
Is it your idea of "better" that justifies presuming authority over another person?

Damien Grant

Leonid's picture

If you skip the red traffic light or drive on the wrong side of the road you may cause an accident, die and kill others. What part of it is subjective? Some road rules are subjective, most of them not. You cannot drive as you want because you are not allowed to kill people. But this is completely beside the point. The point is that notion of common good pertains to the subjective standard of value, the non-existent entity called society or public. The typical example is your statement "we tolerate some deaths in return for convenience." Who are these "WE"? Does it include the dead and their families? Or should "we " sacrifice them "in return for convenience"? The only proper rules are those which protect the individual rights-from the criminals, government intervention and drunk drivers.


Damien Grant's picture

Well, yes, I do accept limits on my individual freedom for the benefits I get because other people are likewise constrained.

Road rules are a good example. I accept restrictions on my behavior in order to have a road system that works rather than the chaos that exists in places like India where road rules are ignored and breaches not enforced.

This applies to things like rules relating to banking, formulation of companies and other areas of life that works better when everyone is forced to follow one set of rules.

I do not think that imposes on anyone's freedom in an important sense but road rules absolutely restrict human behavior.

My point is that I think that there is such a thing as a common good and that there is a lot more areas of grey than your original post would imply.

Of course, it might be helpful to point out that I am a 'muddled statist' as opposed to a true believer, much to the disappointment of Hubbard.

Freedom and Happiness for All; Sacrifice for None

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Damien -- A lot of this discussion is probably just a matter of semantics -- of differing and loose usage of terminology, but...

Do you really want to sacrifice the individual good, individual flourishing, and individual freedom to the common good? And just how much should the individual surrender to the collective? Is there really a net increase in human happiness when we all sacrifice a bit to humankind and to the common good?

Long Live the Individual!

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Thanks, Richard! I think this is an important issue. My lightning survey of the issue (after I wrote the article) suggests the Greeks and Romans agreed with the "common good" social and political ideal, but used the term very loosely and generally. They evidently didn't suspect what was at stake, and didn't know how much they were undermining individualism and personal happiness. Now the Religious Right and Welfare Statist Left can use this alleged ideal to promote their dismal ideologies, and really hammer individual freedom and individual happiness.


Damien Grant's picture

But things like road rules are subjective, not objective.

If the road rules were more stringent, (no alcohol, lower speed limits) then the road toll would be lower but the state makes a trade off between a functioning road system and road safety, we tolerate some deaths in return for convenience. But we also accept that we cannot drive how we want in order to benefit from both a lower death toll and a well organized road network.

I do not see how there is not a "common good" element here, and remember I am using road rules as a proxy for a wide range of similar such coordination of human behavior where individual rights are constrained in return for a better functioning society.

Although I may not like having to drive within the rules, I benefit from other people being forced to drive within the rules. That, I think, is a common good.

Nice article. I like your use

Richard Wiig's picture

Nice article. I like your use of "individual good", Kyrel, a term that should be spread around.

Damien Grant

Leonid's picture

"I have a higher risk profile than most and I would like to be able to drive faster or drive when I’m drunk. My 'rights' are being impinged by the rules of the road, "

Such a behavior represents clear and present danger to everybody including yourself. There is no such a thing as a right to infringe the rights of other people (to kill them on the road, for example), that would be a contradiction in terms. The objective rules and laws pertain to objective standard of value which is man's life. However the notion of common good pertains to the subjective standard, society. Society as an entity doesn't exist-it is simply a group of individuals, each of them is an autonomous volitional being with rational capacity and inalienable rights. The notion of common good, that-is a notion that a group qua group has more value and more rights then each and every member of such a group is a subjective nonsense. Besides, the concept of good presupposes a valuer. Good for whom and for what? Society, as a group cannot value anything and therefore a decision about a nature of common good is made or by majority vote or simply arbitrary by those who are in the position of power. A philosophy which proclaims its goal as common good in fact subordinates man to the group and, as result, renders each and every member of society deprived of all rights. Such a philosophy is a basis of deification of society, government and state, it grants to society powers which previously have been attributed to alleged God, makes it omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. It turns truth and justice to the number game-5 Kiwis could be wrong, but 5 millions-never. If we really aspire to freedom, the notion of the common good should be discarded first.

Gov't Roads are Communist Roads

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Thanks, Greg!

And yes, Leonid, "the common good" ideal is very similar to Jeremy Bentham's [1748-1832] Utilitarian ideal of "the greatest good of the greatest number." (altho' I think this social standard originally came from Rome, "bonum commune," or Greece). During Bentham's lifetime he was constantly challenged to explain and elaborate on this nebulous phrase -- but evidently he couldn't. This seemingly common sensical and rather marvelous phrase is ultimately a collectivist ideal.

Damien, almost all roads should be private (except for a few military, police, and immediate gov't ones). Thus the various rules of the road are made by the different private owners. No doubt these rules will involve a great deal of equal and free access to all paying customers and drivers. But roads are a wonderful example of individual rights and the non-existence of fundamental conflicts of interest among individual men. Each man is free to drive where, when, and how he wishes -- but he can't crash into someone else, or threaten to, or invade the defined space and temporary moving property of someone else. This would be a crime -- similar to knocking down, punching, or shooting an innocent. It would involve physical force or assault.

Private driving rules are made for the Individual benefit of all (if that makes sense) -- not the common good. Or if you prefer: Far the best common/collective/group good is the individual good. But that's a sloppy and misleading way of saying it and thinking about it. Upholding the moral standard of the Individual good results in the universal good of all. It generates a collectivist (so to speak) utopia and social perfection.

Humans are social creatures who live cooperative lives -- not collective ones.


Marcus's picture

...would you say that when you go to a supermarket that you are being forced to take the food you want, stand in a queue and pay for it?

And having to do it that way is an infringement of your freedom?

And even more confusing is that some supermarkets allow you to scan and pay for your own shopping without seeing a member of staff.

It's amazing you can function at all in a supermarket without laws that concern the common good of buying goods.

uncommon good

Damien Grant's picture

I see your point. Using road rules is simply short-hand for wider issues, but I think it is a useful example.

Driving on the left hand side of the road or driving under 100k is not really a minority value but I disagree with you that such laws benefit every member of society.

I have a higher risk profile than most and I would like to be able to drive faster or drive when I’m drunk. My 'rights' are being impinged by the rules of the road, although I do derive benefits from other people being compelled to drive according to the rules.

I would have thought that the benefit that I get from other people being forced to follow the road rules would be a common good.

Common good

Leonid's picture

Existence and enforcement of traffic rules is for the personal safety of each and every driver. There is no argument about the fact that the life in the society, organized by objective laws ( like laws of traffic) benefits each and every member of such a society. But that not what common good means. Common good is the good of majority when minorities or individuals forced to sacrifice their own values to achieve this "noble goal". For example your house could be taken from you by force in order to build a free way which will benefit the society. Common good is a notion which subordinates the individual to the society and demands constant sacrifices from him. This is a philosophy for cannibals.

Roundabouts work better

gregster's picture

Let drivers drive and not have nanny saying stop go stop go.

Rules are made...

Marcus's picture the owner of the road, to protect his property. Not to protect the common goo. That's only for babies who wear nappies.


Damien Grant's picture

That was funny.

However, who sets he rules and who enforces breaches?

Imposing rules and punishing those who breach them makes roads work better than if there were no rules.

The difference between no rules and rules would be a common good, yet the rules impose on the freedom of those driving.

"If this is the case how do

Leonid's picture

"If this is the case how do you manage things like road rules?"

Usually by traffic signs and traffic lights. What does it have to do with "common good"?

For the common goo....

Marcus's picture

[I'm surprised they're still allowed to write the word "cigarettes" on the packet!]

Australian fury over kangaroos on cigarette packaging

Winfield puts kangaroo image on cigarettes in France after Australia moves to force tobacco companies to sell plain packets.

"Australia's government has lambasted British and American Tobacco for using the image of a kangaroo on packets of cigarettes sold in Europe, ramping up hostilities ahead of a legal battle over plain-packaging laws.

The attorney general, Nicola Roxon, who as health minister led the drive to introduce laws forcing tobacco products to be sold in plain, olive green packs, said on Friday the use of the most famous Australian symbol to sell cigarettes was outrageous.

The image of a kangaroo, similar to that on warning signs on roads in Australia, appears with the phrase "An Australian Favourite" on packets of Winfield cigarettes sold in France.

"This kind of weaselly marketing tactic will soon have no place here in Australia when all cigarettes will be in plain packaging from December," Roxon said.

BAT, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris have launched separate high court challenges against the laws, saying they infringe their trademark rights.

The tough, world-first legislation that comes into force this year is being closely watched by governments considering similar regulation in Europe, Canada and New Zealand.

"Australians don't like the use of our icons, our kangaroos and our healthy lifestyle to be associated in any way with these deadly products," said Fiona Sharkie, executive director of anti-smoking agency Quit.

British American Tobacco Australia (BATA) said it would not comment on the French kangaroo packaging, which is made by another BAT Group company...

Tobacco export countries including Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Ukraine have warned they may also challenge the laws under global trade rules.

Legal experts have predicted both legal and World Trade Organisation challenges will fail because intellectual property rights agreements give governments the right to pass laws to protect public health.

Australia's tobacco market generated total revenues of about A$10bn (£7bn) in 2009, up from A$8.3bn in 2008, although smoking generally has been in decline. About 22bn cigarettes are sold in the country each year."


Damien Grant's picture

If this is the case how do you manage things like road rules?

There seem many things where coordination is required for society to function.

The notion of common good is

Leonid's picture

The notion of common good is a leftover from the philosophy of Utilitarism which principle is the greatest pleasure for the greatest numbers-a dream of any whorehouse.

The old left and old right wings have cross fertilized...

Marcus's picture

...which has made politics more of a grey goo of the centre.

The left wing now begrudgingly allows that private markets and trade should be allowed to exist, but of course only by permission of the state. It has decided instead of controlling the means of production they will simply regulate them as well as much else of human interaction and activities where it can.

The right wing agrees on this point now (even if it criticises the left wing for being too zealous) and does not mind the principle of state interference in private activities because they never liked the idea that people could be free to be "immoral" in the first place.

Good one Kyrel

gregster's picture

I'm reminded that the salient issue of rights on other current threads is one of the primary lessons of objectivism; "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed."

I'm not as positive as you in saying that objectivism will eventually triumph, but without a doubt, reality will.

Foggy notions such as the "common good" will lead to disaster. The sacred minority, the Individual, is a mere slave under a common good.

Rights are derived from man's rational nature. The common good amounts to "what we want and to hell with the individual."

Objectively that is faking reality and attempting to defy nature. It defies the law of non-contradiction.

One cannot have rights while denying another the same, to do so is to end up exactly as we are heading, in a handcart.

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